James Harden’s Struggles Have Opened the Door for the 76ers to Return to the Ben Simmons Trade Rumor That Started It All

The Ben Simmons trade drama continues on. And on. And on and on and on. Meanwhile, James Harden is struggling to live up to the standards he’s set as one of the NBA’s best offensive players. Are the two things connected?

In fact, they are. Before Simmons disappeared in the playoffs and then disappeared from the organization, he was bandied about as the Sixers tried to acquire Harden and pair him with Joel Embiid. That obviously never came to fruition, and it was the beginning of the end for Simmons and Philly.

But with The Beard’s poor start to the 2021-22 campaign and the former LSU star still MIA, is there a chance the 76ers’ original trade idea could be back in play?

James Harden has struggled mightily thus far in 2021-22

Harden won an MVP Award. He’s a nine-time All-Star. He led the NBA in scoring on three different occasions.

He even led the league in assists in 2016-17.

But that version of the Arizona State product has all but disappeared.

Harden is averaging 20.9 points, his lowest since he came off the bench in Oklahoma City. His 34.6% shooting from three is the lowest of his career. He leads the league in turnovers at 4.8 per night.

There are some built-in excuses: he’s still working back into shape after a hamstring injury he suffered last season; he’s learning to work around the NBA’s rule changes which have diminished his free-throw attempts.

Whatever the case, Harden just isn’t the same player this year that he’s been in the past.

Does that open the door for a redo on a trade that almost went through before James landed with the Brooklyn Nets?

Philly may now be able to revisit the Ben Simmons trade offer that started us down this path

A Ben Simmons trade for James Harden could be back on after Harden's early-season strugles.
James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets drives against Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers during the third quarter of a game at Wells Fargo Center. | Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

It feels like the Simmons saga has been never-ending. To a point, it has. Ben’s unhappiness with the 76ers organization led to a trade demand, which led to him holding out, which got us to where we are now.

What’s gotten lost in the shuffle, though, is where the unhappiness all started.

It wasn’t the infamously poor playoff performance. It wasn’t Doc Rivers’ or Joel Embiid’s comments after Game 7 of the Atlanta Hawks series. To be sure, those were contributing factors, but they weren’t the origin of Simmons’ unhappiness.

Everything began at the beginning of last season when the 2016 draft’s No. 1 overall pick was dangled in Philadelphia general manager Daryl Morey’s effort to acquire Harden from Houston.

According to a report by The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Sixers were so sure they had a deal done they informed Simmons of the trade. Then the trade didn’t go through, and Philly had given Big Ben the proverbial cat straight out of their bag.

Everything else that ensued didn’t help. But Simmons was understandably bothered by the whole thing. (Even if he said via Marc Spears on Twitter that he was “pretty ecstatic to not be traded.” Yikes. That tweet sure didn’t age well).

That’s where the rift between him and the organization truly began.

But with Harden’s abysmal play, is there a chance Morey can convince Brooklyn to part with him and get what he wanted all along?

The door is open once again for a Ben Simmons-James Harden trade

Much of the conjecture around the failed Houston trade has to do with Rockets’ owner Tilman Fertitta’s reluctance to deal with Morey, who left Houston for Philly.

However, the Inquirer also wrote that Sixers’ guard Tyrese Maxey was a sticking point with Morey. The Rockets wanted him, but Morey said no. Then Harden ended up in Brooklyn.

Maxey has been one of the bright spots this year for the 76ers, if not the brightest. The second-year guard has made a significant leap and has taken Simmons’ spot in the lineup.

But if Morey has a second chance at Harden, would he consider keeping the former Kentucky guard out of the deal? Or would he include him to get his original trade over the finish line?

Presumably, if he had another chance at The Beard, he’d let Maxey go. Which, for Brooklyn, could possibly be enough to get a deal done, considering Harden’s poor play.

Also a factor is Kevin Durant’s need for a second banana. Kyrie Irving hasn’t returned to the team, and the other member of his Big Three has played some of the worst basketball of his career.

Simmons would help fill the void and help take some of the playmaking load of KD’s shoulders. With one of the best scorers in NBA history beside him, Big Ben wouldn’t be counted on to be a significant source of offense, either.

A Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, and Maxey deal for the 2017-18 MVP works financially for both teams and makes sense on the floor. Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash would also have the opportunity to work both Maxey and Thybulle in at the two-guard spot that would be vacated by Harden.

Will Morey actually end up getting his guy in the end and bringing the whole saga full circle?

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

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